The only extreme position in this life worth taking is that all extremists are idiots. Politics. Religion. Science fiction nerds. Statheads. Especially statheads. The idea that baseball is something that can be figured out using statistics is laughable. As if some guy with an internet account and an abacus could go to Vegas, cleaning the house out every season with statistical modeling. As if there's no use for the guy who can tell a two-seamer from a four-seamer by sound alone.
Except that's not a real position. Almost any statistically inclined fellow scurrying around these parts doesn't believe that. Scouting is important. Statistics are important. I'm not exactly Newton dropping Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica here; this is obvious, obvious stuff. The boogeyman of the traditional baseball world -- the bespectacled computer nerd who assembles a roster using only his proprietary statistic MqV3 -- is a caricature. The reality is a guy like Mark Shapiro, who has a toe in each wading pool. The reality is a guy like Billy Beane, who doesn't claim to have baseball figured out, is constantly looking to refine his statistics, and still retains a cadre of respected baseball lifers to bounce his opinions off.
If there was a guy to come close to the stereotype, it was the recently junked general manager of the Dodgers. In Moneyball, Paul DePodesta comes off as a hard-line stat nerd, eager to fire scouts and put his Tandy 3000 in charge of amateur drafting. It isn't a flattering portrait in retrospect. He claimed Brant Colamarino might have been the best hitter in college when the A's drafted him. That didn't work out. Lots of things don't work out in the baseball world, but few have a bestselling author hanging around as they transpire.
So, was DePodesta an inscrutable extremist, ready to run the Dodgers into the ground with his number crunching? Uh, I don't know. And neither do you. Most importantly, neither do the Dodgers. The guy wasn't even on the job for two full years. He pulled in players that helped Mordor's finest, and pulled in players that didn't work out so well. His team endured injury after injury, and the players he allowed to leave as free agents would have only made things worse had they stayed. In theory, he liked hitters who made fewer outs than other hitters, and that gives him a leg up on other GMs. That's about the best read we were afforded before he was fired.
If this is a personality issue, there's nothing to say. If DePodesta was some King Midas of alienation, ticking off every person he came in contact with, then there might be a reason for the quick boot. However, this is likely a baseball decision, with the heckling of the media and old-school types becoming too much for Dodger ownership to ignore. Tommy Lasorda doesn't seem like the type to appreciate the finer points of statistical analysis, and his opinion still counts for something, apparently. The phrase "on a short leash" is woefully inadequate in this case; it seems like the Dodgers wanted to slip out the back door as DePodesta showered that first morning after he was hired.
It's hard to know what this means for the Giants. The enlightened part of me is tap dancing around, glad the Dodgers got rid of a statistically bent GM. The realist in me understands the latest variety of World Champion was built by Kenny Williams, who was the anti-DePodesta in a lot of ways. Idiots have built some pretty fine teams, not to necessarily tar Williams with that brush. Even if the Dodgers hired a Lasorda clone, hell bent on scouring the world for the next Jeff Shaw, there would still be a chance for them to humiliate the Giants. But all things being equal: I was bummed when the Dodgers hired DePodesta, and I'm happy to see him go. I almost wish there were some evidence to support those opinions. Almost.